High cholesterol, in general, is usually considered to be bad by uninformed authorities and much of the media today. It is understandable how this happened. Several studies have connected high cholesterol with people also having heart disease. The automatic assumption is that high cholesterol causes heart disease. However, cholesterol is a very necessary macronutrient produced by our body and needed by our body. We’d die without cholesterol!
In addition, the results of treating high cholesterol by prescriptions drugs have not had the success doctors hoped for (more about that in the next section). Obviously, there may have been some wrong assumptions about cholesterol. There is some confusion about the link between high cholesterol and heart disease. This has resulted in some wrong information and treatments for cholesterol and arteries. We are going to discuss this problem in this article.
To begin with, though, we would like to address some of the basics concerning cholesterol.
1. Your liver produces the most of your cholesterol.
A lot of attention is given to the foods we eat – especially fatty foods. However, approximately 80% of the cholesterol in your body comes from liver production. Only about 20% comes from your diet. This means that even a good effort at watching the cholesterol you eat will only reduce your body cholesterol by about 10-12%.
The famous 10-year Framingham study found that there was little correlation between the dietary intake of (eating) cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol levels. (Am J Med 77;62:707-708). This only makes sense since diet only accounts for a smaller part of our total cholesterol. It is still good to take effort to improve your diet, but the cholesterol production of the liver is a far bigger factor in blood cholesterol levels.
2. The ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is important!
Lipid– is a general word that refers to several fatlike compounds in the body.
LDL – refers to a Low-Density-Lipoprotein. This lipoprotein carries cholesterol to the arteries and can stick a little, especially LP(a) cholesterol, to the arteries. The LDLs are considered to be harmful, by standard medicine, if their numbers become too high.
HDL – refers to a High-Density-Lipoprotein. HDL is considered to be a good because it carries excess cholesterol back to the liver to be eliminated.
Ratio– is important! A ratio of at least 1 HDL for every 4 LDL is considered good. Many experts consider even high cholesterol levels to be healthy if the HDL ratio is high enough. This is why most treatments work on lowering the LDL levels and increasing the HDL levels.
These is not technically cholesterol but are considered an indicator of arterial plaque buildup. Triglycerides are nothing more than three fatty acids(trig) hooked together. They form most of the fats we eat (and produce the rolls on our body we try to avoid). However, our body needs these fats (and cholesterol) to survive! The challenge is to eat the proper fats in decent proportions and, again, to give our body what it needs to properly use them.
We will be talking later about how Lp(a) molecules are the major culprits in plaque buildup. They are a cousin of cholesterol but are much more “sticky”. The body signals the liver to produce them in emergency situation to “patch” tears in the arteries. Unfortunately, the patch attracts other things as well, producing plaque. The good news is that this problem goes away when the body is given what it needs to patch the arteries the proper way.
5. High cholesterol is not the biggest cause of arterial plaque buildup!
The cholesterol your body needs is intended to flow through your arteries without causing any harmful effects. Scientists are now finding that many people with normal cholesterol still have artery plaque buildup and heart attacks. Can you suffer a heart attack with “normal” cholesterol? It happens over 1,150 times every day across the U.S. (according to an American Heart Association, 2004 Update). Obviously, there is something more to the picture that is not being taken into consideration. What happens to cause cholesterol to stick to the arteries is the subject of much of our additional articles.